We purchased these bikes directly from Bike Friday, custom built to our measurements in February 2011.
I based my measurements on my small Surly Long Haul Trucker. The bikes were primarily purchased for our tour of Europe in June – July & August 2011. We chose to get the New World Tourists with the Travelcase system, which consists of a Samsonite suitcase and a lightweight, bolt on trailer frame.
So far I have logged 1,400 kilometres on the Bike Friday, and it has performed admirably, comparing very well to the Oyama Lexington folding bike which I initially bought to see if I liked ‘small wheelers’.
My particular NWT is fitted with a Shimano dynamo hub, a women’s Brooks B17, and some flat pedals with ‘power grips’. It has SRAM X4 running gear and Tektro Mini V brakes.
Bike Friday promises that their bikes will ride just like your best bike. I was sceptical at first, but was converted quickly. The steel frame with longish chainstays and seat stays make it very comfortable over the bumpy stuff, particularly for the small 20″ wheel size. The bike handles well at speed, is easy to accelerate and could climb a vertical wall. I did find it hard to cruise on the flat over 25kph, but that is more than quick enough for a tourer.
The tyres are tough, without a single puncture on either the bike or the trailer. After 1,400 kms there is some wear on the rear tyre but they have a lot of meat on them so it will take many more kilometres to wear them out.
The SRAM X4 twist grip shifters are the best twist grip shifter I have ever used. They are comfortable to rest your hands on, and very easy to grab and twist, which is important when touring, as fatigue is likely to come into the game somewhere.
The bikes did well both on and off road, and some of the tracks were very muddy and rough. We also climbed the Col du Tourmalet on them.
I have front and rear racks for the Bike Friday, though I only use the front rack on tour. The chain stays are long for a folder, but there is a heel strike issue when my panniers are stuffed to the brim on the back of the bike. I have taken the Bike Friday shopping as it is stable and handles well under load.
The trailer hitch is ingenious – it is an air hose coupling which is brazed on to the frame. It is compact and efficient – just make sure you keep the trailer hitch clean and lubed, otherwise it will jam up and will be impossible to get off. It also may cause problems with your trailer bolts if the bike falls over and the hitch won’t rotate…. (see the ‘Bad’ below).
Packing the bike up and taking it ‘incognito’ was awesome, especially for the French trains where taking bikes is a hassle, and for the ICE train from Germany to the Netherlands where you have to pay extra for a bike. Having the bikes in such a compact form was also handy for catching taxis to and from the airport, as we could fit them both in a wagon (it would have had to have been a maxi taxi otherwise!), and we didn’t have to go to the separate ‘oversize luggage’ drop off at the airport as the Samsonites fit on the conveyers. It was also good for hotels who otherwise would not let bikes into the rooms.
Initially the buzz from the tyres bothered me. You only notice it when in quiet areas with smooth riding surfaces though, so I didn’t notice it much on tour.
The ‘draw bolt’ which attaches the draw bar of the trailer to the Samsonite suitcase bent and snapped when we were dismantling our gear to put it on a train rendering the trailer useless until I found a new bolt. I did find a new one, but the way that the original bolt bent meant that the hole was widened when unscrewing it to get it out. This meant that the replacement bolt had to be periodically retightened on tour.
The suitcases, while stylish, were the weak point of the system. The handles clogged up with dirt which meant they jammed and did not extend easily. The main lock jammed a few times on tour, making it hard to open the case, and after a while they required a good, sharp whack in order to shut them properly. They were roughly handled on the flight back, and did their job well protecting the bikes, but I needed to use the claw part of a hammer to get the lock open.
The Bike Friday New World tourist bikes were the perfect solution for our tour. I will also use mine in future for tours that involve the Australind or Prospector trains in WA which make taking full size bikes a hassle. The Bike Friday will also become my summertime commuter when the bike cage is overflowing, and I need to fold the bike, put it in a bag and carry it upstairs to keep in the store room.